It seems fitting that one of my first blogs should be about the person who gave me life , my mom. I was young and had just enrolled as a music education major at St. Olaf College. I had not seen nor spoken to my mom since I ran away from home at the age of 16.
My mom was diagnosed with lung cancer in October of 1986, and passed away in December. She was 50. I was 18. I left college and came back to spend every day of those last months of her life with her. The reality of death, suddenly staring us both directly in the face and pressured by the unresolved conflict and missing years from our relationship, buckled under morbid circumstances that brought us back together. Very little was spoken between us, but enough.
She slowly drifted into a land of morphine-induced relief, and we were told that she could still hear us, but not respond. After weeks and weeks of sitting at her bedside, talking to her incessantly with no response, I had already devised my plan of how I alone was going to cure cancer. I made calls every day, seeking out the brightest and most experienced doctors and professors who specialized in cancer treatment and cutting edge practices in the field. I was invincible and angry enough to be motivated and loved her enough to naively think that I would be the person to end this tragic disease, and bring my mom back to life so we could start over and repair years upon years of familial dysfunction.
That didn’t happen, obviously. What I encountered was empathy, but I was not looking for nor did I want empathy. What I wanted were answers and information. I honestly believed that if I could somehow gather all of, or at least most of, how cancer worked and what typical treatments were administered I alone could put the pieces together and save my mom’s life. As a young man, I had more confidence than was necessary – my cup overfloweth with confidence!
“Reality” was a place on a hill somewhere that I didn’t care to visit often. The news that my mom was going to die took me by the throat and dragged me right up that hill, and its grasp forced me into a staring contest with the murderer that cancer was. I was NOT a Christian, and this little number playing out in my life only pushed me farther away from any God, if there was one. And just in case there was, I spent more than a few moments cursing Him out. How dare He try to take away the only person that I knew with no reservations loved me completely.
Cursing turned to crying, crying turned to begging, and begging turned to bargaining. Take me instead, God! And I meant it. The sight of my mom, a strong woman in every way, being literally attacked by some internal invisible force that wreaked an evil havoc on this beautiful woman was unbearable. “Let me trade places!” I begged the God I didn’t believe in. And when He didn’t, I cursed Him out even more.
What did happen was this: when I spoke to her, we would lock eyes. I would gently move close to her and literally, we were nearly nose to nose. I could feel and see the difference that made for both her and I. Mind you, I loved my mom very much, but at that point, I hadn’t even seen her for two years. I had always envisioned the day where we would have our happy resolution and mutual forgiveness. Again, no amount of immature confidence, empathy, or misdirected anger could change this reality. Is my mom dying – at 50 years old? It was never even on my radar. I had no idea how to cope. I had love and I had anger, and I bounced back and forth with those emotions minute by minute.
At one point, after the two-way communication between us had long stopped and she lay day after day in silent emotional and physical pain, she scared the crap out of me and she sprang upright in her bed, yelling my name repeatedly, “Billy! Billy! Billy! I need you!” I was the youngest in our very large family, and she always made me feel like I was her favorite – just ask my brothers and sisters and step-brothers and sisters – I still get crap for having been given preferential treatment. That episode was the last I had ever heard from my mom on earth – she died not long after that.
Why share such a personal and sad story to so many who don’t know me personally? One reason…the eyes. As my mom and family and friends (and she had many) suffered the loss of a selfless, independent, fun and strong-willed woman, and who’s final days found her trapped in a one-sided conversation, our only true form of communication was eye contact. I knew in those precious last moments, that you can’t possibly say too much, and hope was engrained in my heart like a heavy stone stamped with a seal of a promise and approval from my mom. We would meet again some day. That’s what she told me – all through her most beautiful blue and loving eyes.
My hope is that you can all find a way to celebrate your mother, even if you have struggled or had a strained relationship with her. I also hope that if you are a mom, your own kids will capitalize on the opportunity to renew their relationship with you and you choose a special way to celebrate your unique connection to each other.
My mom was not an educated woman. She pieced together a way to help support her family by working at a box factory, a bakery, a retail store, and when we had to – welfare and food stamps. My mom was not perfect. But she was perfect for me. She made mistakes, blindly followed patterns of relationship dysfunctions set by social standards of the day, and sometimes cussed like a sailor when she got frustrated. She loved all of her children deeply. She did the best that she possibly could – and I know that for certain now. How do I know this for certain? Her eyes. I look forward to the day I get to meet her again, but I’m in no rush. I have my own family now and I know my mom will be there when I get there.
No matter what your circumstances are, celebrate your mom while you still can every day and in every way! If it has been a bruised relationship, you have control over your side of the fence. Take advantage of the opportunities that are there. With each passing day, time is robbing you of that opportunity, placing distance between you and the person who brought you into this beautiful, amazing world. Take the time to talk, and even more so, take the time to listen patiently and with a genuine interest and curiosity. Ask your mom questions about her life and connect your souls with each other through mutual respect and concern for each other. Too busy? Believe me, regardless of wherever you need to get or whatever you have to get done… it can wait.
Born in 1936, my mom grew up in a completely different way than I did. She learned how to smoke behind the church from the minister’s daughter, which was the beginning of the end of her very short life. Today, God is working in my life daily and empowers me with strength, humility, and love that she was not always able to give me herself. Much to her unintentional credit, the absence of religion in my upbringing allowed me to grow into the very “liberal-minded” and “liberal-motivated” Christ follower that I am. If my beliefs leaned any further left I’d fall over – and sometimes I do! Such was the life and its impact on me from a woman trapped in an era where gender was a major factor in defining what role(s) you were expected to fulfill. I’ve often wondered what different choices she would have made in life if she had access to the opportunities that are available today.
Regardless, let’s all strive to learn from our mom’s, and give her our unconditional love that we are only given a finite time to share. To my own mom – Wink, wink… nudge, nudge – I love you and long for the day when I will see you again. I know I can’t have you back, but I want you to know that I am clearing a path that leads directly to you with the resolve and strength that you gave me. Thank God for the possibility of that, mom!
Not long after my mom passed away, a family friend wrote this poem and gave a copy to each of us that were her children:
A Time To Reflect
Joyce’s heart was like a museum.
She had pictures of loved ones there to see.
Special place that transcended echoes
Some would call it, “her museum of memories.”
Everyone enjoys works of great artist.
Flashing colors across campus, on stands.
Joyce has a touch of a master artist
As she sculptured her work, with her hands.
Her work may seldom be noticed by others.
In spite of all, kept an encouraging attitude period
But seven examples of her art will know
They were molded from love, her aptitude.
Joyce took time to be tender.
Use gentle words to cushion hard blows.
Always there in times of illness.
Shared in excitement and all the glows!
Look closely at all seven sculptures,
Though not perfect, yet beautiful each piece.
But mother’s love excepted their cracks
And her support reinforced every crease!
There is One Greater than any other.
One who knows we cannot walk alone.
One who has bathed the sorrow of many hearts
With His precious blood to make us, his own!
Thank you Jesus for coming back to life
Even death could not keep you it’s prey!
You rose the victor over all our sins
You tore our chains away!
Turn our eyes away from world of pain, and
Not to compare ourselves better than others.
But you know we are justified by faith alone
In His love, by believing, sisters and brothers.
I may not personally comprehend fully
Just what all this means to me.
But the pardon of all my sins
Can bring a great inner peace from Thee!
Let Your Word unveil my sight
Give me time and patience to grow.
Not in riches of this earth, but in Thy Word,
Please take this wondering soul, in tow! Amen.
~ Romans 3:24 & 5:1 – 11